Postal Service announces more Sorting & Delivery Centers coming soon

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service has announced the launch dates for several more Sorting & Delivery Centers, along with the “spoke” post offices that will give over their carriers to these S&DC hubs.

The notification lists 16 new S&DCs and 52 spoke offices set to go live on Sept. 7, 2024.  That includes the Acworth S&DC, which had been announced previously. Here’s the basic list. A more detailed list is here.

  • Acworth GA Carrier Annex S&DC : Kennesaw Main; Kennesaw Carrier Annex
  • Carbondale IL S&DC: Carterville Main; De Soto Main; Murphysboro Main
  • Columbus GA Oakland Park Station S&DC: Columbus – Fort Benning Branch; Cataula Main; Fortson Main; Ellerslie Main
  • Washington OH S&DC (Dayton – Washington TWP Branch): Bellbrook- Main Office; Dayton – Wright Patterson AFB CAX
  • High Point NC S&DC
  • La Crosse WI S&DC
  • Lake Charles LA S&DC: Westlake Main; Lake Charles – Drew Station
  • Oakland Park, Ohio S&DC
  • Olympia WA Hub Station S&DC: Rainier Main; Mccleary Main; Dupont Main; Olympia Main; Rochester Main
  • Sarasota FL S&DC
  • Severna Park MD S&DC: Pasadena Main; Severn Main
  • Shawnee Mission KS S&DC:  Kansas City – Parkville Branch; Shawnee Mission – Shawnee Branch
  • Southern Connecticut S&DC: New Haven – East Haven Carrier Annex; Durham Main; Middletown Main; Southington – Trailer; Northford Main; New Haven – Hamden Branch; Meriden Main; Cheshire Main; New Haven – Mt Carmel Carrier Annex; Rockyhill Main; Portland Main; Wallingford Main; Cromwell- Main Office; Kensington Main; Plantsville Main
  • Vineland NJ S&DC
  • Wilkes Barre PA S&DC
  • York PA East Branch S&DC : Felton Main; Manchester Main; York Haven Main; Marietta Main; Glen Rock Main; Windsor Main; Wrightsville Main; Shrewsbury Main; Red Lion Main; Thomasville Main; Columbia Main; Etters Main; Mainuntville Main; Seven Valleys Main; Mainunt Wolf Main

A second notification has provided the launch date for the spokes at a few other S&DCs that had also been announced previously:

  • South Atlanta GA S&DC: Broadview Station, Cascade Heights Station, Morris Brown Station (all launched on Feb. 10, 2024)
  • Panama City FL S&DC: Downtown Station (March 9); Northside Station (March 23)
  • Everett WA S&DC: Bothell – Mill Creek; Seattle North City Annex (both on June 1)
  • Pompano Beach FL S&DC: Pompano Beach Main and Coconut Creek (both on March 9); Margate Branch and Coral Springs (on March 23). (There’s more on this S&DC here.)

For most of the S&DCs launching in September, the notification list includes just two or three spokes, and for six S&DCs, no spokes are listed at all. Over the coming months, new notifications will add more spokes to these S&DCs.

The Postal Service has said the main criterion for determining which carrier units will be consolidated is travel time to the S&DC, with a limit of 30 minutes. Using that limitation, one can determine which post offices could potentially become spoke offices.

While the list shows just 52 spokes, there are about 200 other carrier units within 30 minutes of the 16 S&DCs launching in September. Not all will lose their carriers, however. Other factors will come into play, like the capacity of the S&DC in terms of interior space for carriers and distribution cases, parking spaces for employees and delivery trucks, and so on.

Here’s a map showing the S&DCs launching in September (red), along with the spokes that have been announced (blue) and the potential spokes within 30 minutes of the S&DCs (purple).

A list of the facilities with addresses, carrier routes, distances between S&DC and post offices, and so on, is on Google Docs here. By the way, our regularly updated list of all the facilities in the new network — RPDCs, LPCs, S&DCs, and spokes — is here.

The Postal Service says that as of January 25, there were 31 S&DCs in operation, and carrier operations were “insourced” from 87 spoke post offices, serving 123 ZIP codes. A total of 1,379 routes have been relocated to these S&DCs.

There about 45 more S&DCs launching over the coming months, through September, which will bring the total to about 75 S&DCs. By the end of September and fiscal year 2024, approximately 178 posts offices will have given up about 3,200 routes, three-fourths of them city routes and one-fourth, rural.

The impacts of longer routes

The notification to employee organizations about the new S&DCs prefaces the facility list by saying, “The purpose of establishing S&DCs is to reduce transportation and mail handling costs as well as provide postal customers with additional services.”

The Postal Service has not provided any evidence that the S&DC system will reduce transportation costs. That’s because there isn’t any. Even with the reduction in trips between processing centers and post offices, the S&DCs will add millions of miles to the network, with all the costs for fuel, maintenance, and carrier work hours.

The average city route is 21 miles (transit plus route), and the average rural route is 35 miles. According to an OIG study on consolidating carrier routes, the current average transit between post offices and routes is 1.25 miles each way. For the carrier units being consolidated in September, the average transit distance will increase to 11 miles each way — about a 19-minute drive or more, depending on traffic.

If the average transit distance nationally were to increase by 10 miles and the drive time increased by 15 minutes, and if 100,000 routes were eventually relocated to S&DCs, as projected by the Delivering for America plan, the new network would require 600 million more miles and 15 million more work hours. (For more on the calculations, see this post and this post).

In the current network of 233,000 routes, delivery vehicles travel about 1.8 billion miles. So 600 million more miles represents an increase of about 34 percent.

The transportation costs of these additional carrier miles would be partially offset by lower costs for transportation between processing centers and post offices (the carriers will do that work). But the savings from eliminating this component of transportation will be dwarfed by the cost of all the additional miles in the routes.

The additional carrier work hours for longer routes will be offset by cutting clerk jobs at post offices and eventually closing and downsizing many offices. That’s the only way the S&DC system won’t add red ink. To offset 15 million additional work hours, the Postal Service would need to eliminate something like 8,000 clerk jobs.

No environmental impact study

Besides the additional costs of longer routes, there’s the environmental impacts to consider. The Postal Service included a “sensitivity analysis” in the supplemental environmental impact study (SEIS) it did on the purchase of a new fleet of delivery vehicles, but it’s very brief. It showed, as would be expected, that longer routes cut deeply into the emissions benefits of a electrifying the fleet. (More on that here.)

The Postal Service could have done a more detailed analysis as part of the SEIS on the new fleet, but chose not to, explaining that “delivery facility network optimization is not considered part of the Proposed Action analyzed in this SEIS” because the “purchase of vehicles will not itself cause any meaningful change in average route length.”

The Postal Service could have done a separate EIS on the S&DC transformation, but it again chose not to do so, explaining that the plans to consolidate carriers “are still under development and are independent of the vehicle replacement program.” Therefore, said the Postal Service, “this SEIS does not address the environmental impacts from this delivery facility network optimization, which the Postal Service will consider in a separate NEPA assessment if deemed appropriate.” Needless to say, the Postal Service has proceeded with implementation of the S&DC plan without doing a separate EIS.

The Postal Service could have also requested an advisory opinion on network transformation from the Postal Regulatory Commission, which would have produced data relevant to environmental impacts, but it refused to do so, saying that the plan would not impact postal services from the customer’s point of view so the Commission’s opinion was not necessary.

The Postal Service has even refused to turn over data about transportation routes to the PRC as part of the Public Inquiry into Delivering for America. On December 20, the Commission filed an information request asking for details about transportation routes in the new network. On January 2, the Postal Service filed a “motion for reconsideration,” arguing the information request exceeded the Commission’s authority and implicitly threatening to go to court rather than sharing the data. It’s been seven weeks since then, and the Commission has yet to rule on the motion or to issue any further information requests. The Public Inquiry has come to a halt.

[Update, Feb. 22: Just hours after this post was published, the PRC finally ruled on the motion for reconsideration, granting it in part and denying it in part. The order is here, and the revised information request is here.]

Leave the commuting costs to the carriers

The S&DCs lengthen not only the carrier routes but also commuter distances for the carriers and other employees at the S&DCs. The Postmaster General doesn’t seem overly concerned about it. At a meeting on February 6, 2024, the PMG told reporters that as part of the consolidation effort, employees in some cases will have to drive about 5 to 15 miles farther. But that shouldn’t be a problem, he added, because “our employees are committed to the success of the Postal Service. I am sure they will do that.”

In that same meeting, or possibly another one the following week, DeJoy acknowledged that some carriers would have a longer commute to the S&DC than to their post office. But, he added, “If there’s an uncomfortable expectation, it’s that. And how uncomfortable is that — you’ve got to go an extra 30 minutes to go to work? We have to get new plants, we have to improve our plants, we have to align our work, so we can move it efficiently,” DeJoy said.

So whether it’s 5 miles, 15 miles, or 30 minutes (about 20 miles), it’s a sacrifice employees should be willing to make for the sake of the Postal Service. But the longer commutes are not simply “uncomfortable.” All the extra money on gas and maintenance comes out of the employee’s pocket, and there’s no additional compensation for the time spent in the car on the longer commuting.

Let the sunshine in

The Postmaster General recently told Federal News Network something to the effect that the new S&DC facilities are an upgrade for postal employees who previously worked in old, dark facilities that were a drain on workforce morale.

That’s the way the network transformation has been presented since the beginning, going back to July 2022, when an article in Eagle Magazine promised that the new network would let the sunshine in: “A better workplace for a brighter future.”

Eagle Magazine July 2022

That might make sense if most of the new S&DCs were in new facilities. But that’s not the case at all.

So far, the only S&DC in a new facility is the recently opened S&DC in Pompano Beach. All the others are in currently operating P&DCs, large post offices, and carrier annexes.

Over the coming months, about 150 P&DCs will be downgraded to housing a Local Processing Center and usually an S&DC as well. These are all currently existing facilities.

The new network features three new regional processing centers (RPDCs) in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Indianapolis, but there’s been no indication that they will also contain S&DCs, and the USPS presentations on the Atlanta and Charlotte region have not shown these RPDCs as housing S&DCs.

The Postal Service has indicated that there may be new facilities in several cities, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Louisville, Baton Rouge, Rochester, Salt Lake City, Grand Rapids, Seminole, Boston, and Billings. But these are designated as RPDCs with no sign that they will also include S&DCs.

There may also be other new facilities in the works, and some of these could contain S&DCs, like the one in Pompano Beach. Most likely, of the 400 S&DCs that are projected to be in the new network, maybe a dozen will be in new buildings.

Naturally the Postal Service is drawing the media’s attention to the shiny new facilities in order to advance its narrative of modernization, but the S&DCs are nearly all going to be located in currently operating facilities.

As for the old, dark post offices that will be consolidated to S&DCs, these are mostly small and mid-size post offices that probably have just as much light as the buildings where carriers are being moved, maybe more, and they are comparable in age as well.

Of the 75 or so S&DCs identified so far, the USPS owns 60 of the buildings, and their average age is about 42 years. Of the 177 spoke offices identified so far, about 60 are owned by the Postal Service, and they average 52 years old. In terms of “old” and “new,” that’s not much of a difference. The post offices in leased properties are probably “younger” than the owned properties, so the difference, if any, would be even smaller.

The only spoke post offices that could be considered “old” are actually beautiful historic New Deal post offices — the gems of the Postal Service’s inheritance of brick-and-mortar post offices. For most carriers moving from one of these post offices to an S&DC at a repurposed P&DC, it won’t be much of an upgrade.

In other words, it’s simply false to portray the S&DCs as an “upgrade” whereby employees are being moved from old, dark facilities to new, light-filled facilities.

Introducing Premier Post Offices, again

As for S&DCs providing additional services to customers, this apparently refers to the faster delivery that may be possible for customers within 30 minutes of an S&DC because the mail doesn’t need to be transported to a post office for carrier delivery — the system skips that step. But the Postal Service hasn’t really identified any other “additional services.”

One potential new service, however, was revealed at a recent presentation for business mailers described in a recent newsletter from Mailers Hub. The Postal Service announced that some S&DCs will also host upgraded retail post offices called “premier offices.”

These offices will showcase various forms of “retail technology modernization,” including 24-hour secure lobby access, self-service kiosks for mailing packages, parcel lockers, digital fingerprinting services, and kiosks for passport photos. Here’s an image from the presentation:

Source: USPS via Mailers Hub

Much of this self-service equipment has been featured in images of modernized post office lobbies that have been circulating in news reports since 2013:

Installing and upgrading retail post offices in S&DCs is one of the ways the Postal Service will be spending the $4 billion on post office improvements mentioned in the Delivering for America plan. According to the DFA, the investment will “provide a world-class customer experience with improved retail training, modernized uniforms, refreshed lobbies, and expanded self-service and digital options.”

Premier post offices are not a new idea. About ten years ago the Postal Service selected 3,100 metro-area post offices for an upgrade to the “Premier Post Office” program. It focused on sprucing up the post office with improved maintenance and on providing extra training for retail associates, including a module on telephone courtesy. As part of the program, the Postal Service also launched something called It Begins With a Smile to improve the customer experience.

The premier offices also had preferred access to new stamp issues, like the Harry Potter, and extended hours during the holidays. A 2015 OIG study said the Postal Service could be doing a better job measuring and evaluating the success of the program, and many of the Premier post offices could also be improved in terms of their physical appearance.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the Postal Service will begin closing post offices, downsizing to smaller spaces, and selling buildings, many of them historic. You can almost hear the explanation now: The premier post office at the S&DC will be newer, more modern and more convenient than the post office being closed. Forget about the fact that you may have to drive an extra 10 or 15 miles to get there and your town or neighborhood no longer has its own post office. It’s all for the greater good.

— Steve Hutkins

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